The massive Colosseum is a large round arena complex, built in 72AD and was originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre. A portion of the top level has been destroyed over the centuries, giving the arena its characteristic damaged silhouette. Even so, it is in remarkably good shape for its age which makes is a strong statement to the quality of Roman engineering.
Though the arena was used on occasion for theatrical performances, its main purpose was to host brutal contests between gladiators, wild animals and more straight-forward executions. It was all considered to be entertainment to the Romans of the time. By today’s standards, the events would be more than a little cruel.
Having seen countless photos of the exterior, I was a little surprised to see the inside. Since the floor of the arena was originally made from wood, it has long since rotted away. This has left the “basement” of the arena, called the hypogeum, exposed in the centre of the arena. Interesting in itself, it did make it hard to envision the battles and events that would have taken place here since there is no longer a flat surface in the arena area.
As we walked through the site, it wasn’t difficult to imagine 50,000 Romans screaming in their seats as two armed gladiators tried to kill each other, or possibly as a hapless Christian had to face the lions. Sometimes the arena floor would be flooded for more exotic contests.
Though it is only one building, you should not miss seeing the Colosseum when you are in Rome. Some other sites are more expansive and offer more to see, but there is something special about this arena. Tours include most levels of the arena where you can walk around to see what it would have been like as a spectator, and you can also get access to the hypogeum area where the gladiators would have waited between battles.
We had a tour guide during our visit and were a little disappointed to learn that though much of the damage to the Colosseum was due to earthquake, a lot of the arena was gutted by stone-robbers looking for easy building materials.
One of the great things about seeing the Colosseum was that it sits right in the heart of downtown Rome, so we didn’t have to spend too much time travelling outside the city to get there (which can often be the case with great Roman ruins).
Once you’ve seen the Colosseum, you can continue to the Arch of Constantine and the more elaborate ruins of the Roman Forum. Though the Colosseum likely won’t take you more than a couple of hours to see, the area as a whole is filled with ancient sites that would easily fill up another day or two (or three).
As one of the most famous sights in Rome, the Colosseum is visited by many tourists each year. If you were in Rome, would you spend more time at the more modern sights or do the ancient ruins hold more interest for you? Have you had the opportunity to see any Roman-era sites in your travels (in Rome or elsewhere)?